Sunday, July 31, 2011

Felix Francis' Solo Debut is not quite a flying finish...

Dick Francis's Gamble
Felix Francis
Publisher: Putnam
July 26, 2011
ISBN: 0399157476
    I have read many of the late Dick Francis' thrillers starting with his early Nerve and For Kicks. His books with their English-based settings, are highly enjoyable.  Four were written with son and successor Felix since 2006. This is Felix's first solo outing and he  may need to find his own voice a bit. The horse theme unifies the series. Each has a brainy and heroic accidental detective (some become actual detectives, like Sid Halley, the rare repeat), and each has a Hitchcockian and violent plot wherein our hero must unravel the secrets or die trying- literally. Other characteristics include a well-researched back story into things like gems, banking,  restaurants, betting, kidnapping, and various aspects of horse training, racing, and riding; fairly thin characterizations; and wry if not laugh out loud dialogue. There is an edge and a sparkle to them that has made them stand out from other similar manly thrillers.

    The latest is the first one written solo by Felix in the Dick Francis tradition. It is set in the world of independent  investment firms and features Nick "Foxy" Foxworth, a former jockey who broke his neck on a race and is now a financial planner. When his work friend, Herb, is shot standing next to him at the Cheltenham Races, Nick's well-regulated world falls into chaos. He must solve the mystery or he, his girlfriend, and mother are all in mortal danger.

    The book follows the formula pretty well. Nick does seem like a typical Francis hero, not quite as charmingly self-deprecating and a little more cold than others I thought. I was taken aback by his at-first cavalier attitude to his girlfriend but that gets straightened out before long. He does seem colder and more cynical than your average Dick Francis hero. I recently read another in the series, Ten Pound Penalty, where the main character is so heroic, honest, true blue, and passionate that he convinces his father's political opponents to support the father. Nick is a bit off-putting and cynical compared to that.

    Sherri, the American sister of the murdered friend, is introduced as what? a potential love interest? then promptly dropped. Nick is also less than chivalrous to an older lady trainer putting the moves on him but not adverse to using her house as a safehouse. Nick is hot stuff to the ladies apparently.  The dialogue is a bit stiff and lacking in the wry wit, and the characters very thin. However, it was an enjoyable read so I will continue to look for the others in the series if not quite as joyously as before.

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